godfathers of heavy metal

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Dio Years (2007)

BLACK SABBATH – The Dio Years (2007 Rhino)

Compilations are always fun to quibble about. Fans like to complain about which songs are missing, and which songs they’d replace. I won’t spend too much time talking about that. Most reviewers have already pointed out that “Sign Of The Southern Cross” and “Time Machine” are missing from the 2007 Dio-era Black Sabbath compilation, The Dio Years.

It’s very important to remember two things. One, this album contained the first new Black Sabbath music released in nine years. Nine years! This is a band that used to release an album every year, up until the point that Ozzy Osbourne rejoined the band. Since then (and before the new album 13), the band released exactly two new songs (both with the Ozzman singing) and started to stagnate. Since The Dio Years represented the first new Sabbath material in almost a decade, it bears a listen.

The second point of note: this set was originally supposed to be a 2-CD boxed set. As such I’m sure a lot of songs were dropped along the way, Yes, “Southern Cross” is missing. However, this reviewer’s only real quibble is “Southern Cross”. I mean, hey — “Lonely is the Word” is on here!  I would have replaced “Lady Evil” with “Southern Cross” myself (I never liked “Lady Evil” much), but perhaps the fine folks at Rhino felt that one 7+ minute epic was enough for a single disc. I can understand that logic. Besides, I, like every Sabbath fan worth his or her own salt, already own Mob Rules.

SABBATH DIO YEARS_0006

This disc was freshly remastered. I should point out that this remastering session was not the same one that produced the series of Sabbath Castle remasters in the late 90’s, but one that occurred in 2006/7. As such the sound is even heavier (louder). I found that I had to roll down the bass a bit, as my normal settings made the bass just too heavy. This was also the first time that the material from Dehumanizer (15 years young!) had been remastered.  The running order is a little weird, though.  “Heaven and Hell” as the third song on an album?  A live “Children of the Sea” following “I”?  The flow is lacking in cohesion.

The liner notes are excellent, very detailed, with lots of facts that casual Sabbath fans didn’t know (like the fact that Craig Gruber from Rainbow, and Sabbath keyboard man Geoff Nicholls were brought in to play some bass when Geezer briefly left the band in 1980). There are a bunch of cool pictures and artwork as well, which fit in nicely with the Sabbath vibe.

Every Dio-era album get a look-in, even the controversial Live Evil via a great version of “Children Of The Sea”, almost as memorable as its studio counterpart. No rarities. What you get instead are the aforementioned three new songs. That’s one more than Ozzy gave you on the Sabbath Reunion CD, by the way!

When Dio was with Sabbath he tended to talk about his songs in terms of tempo. As such, you get one “fast one” (“Ear In The Wall”), one “slow one” (“Shadow Of The Wind”) and one mid-tempo song (the single “The Devil Cried”). I almost always prefer the fast Sabbath stuff, so obviously “Ear In The Wall” is my favourite. Sound-wise, these three new songs pick up where Dehumanizer left off, and foreshadow The Devil You Know.

Geezer, unfortunately, was not involved in the writing.  Iommi and Dio also did the production themselves. This might have something to do with the fact that I can’t hear nearly enough of Geezer’s trademark slinky bass lines–something I identify with the Sabbath sound more than any singer they’ve ever had. Iommi’s playing some good riffs and some scorching solos here, although I have found his guitar tone over the last decade to be too modern and distorted. I much prefer it when he gets a nice amp-driven sound rather than something so processed. However, bottom line is, these three new songs are good, albeit not essential, parts of the Sabbath catalogue.

Thankfully these three new songs were not the last gasp of Black Sabbath. Before his untimely death, Ronnie James Dio recorded The Devil You Know, under the name Heaven & Hell. And of course after that, the original Black Sabbath finally delivered the unforgettable 13.

As for The Dio Years?

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know (2009)

H&HTDYK_0001HEAVEN & HELL – The Devil You Know (2009 Atlantic)

If one considers The Devil You Know as a part of the official Black Sabbath canon (as I do), then it’s not a stretch to call it the darkest and heaviest album in this band’s storied career. The only album that would be on a par with that is Born Again. If I refer to Heaven & Hell as Black Sabbath in this review, I trust you’ll forgive me. After all, this is the Mob Rules/Live Evil/Dehumanizer lineup of Black Sabbath, and a rose by any other name….

The previous album that these four guys did together was 1992’s masterpiece Dehumanizer, (notwithstanding the three new songs on the compilation Black Sabbath: The Dio Years). The last official Black Sabbath studio album prior to this was 1995’s Tony Martin-helmed Forbidden, a dreadful rushed piece of garbage that almost buried Sabbath forever.*

So, it is quite refreshing that The Devil You Know is so heavy, and so good. If you are familiar with the slow, dirgey sludge that were the three new songs on The Dio Years, that is a good reference point to the sound on this album. Very sludgey, mostly slow, guitar-heavy and intense. There are some faster ones (“Double The Pain”, “Neverwhere” etc) but for the most part this is 10 tons of pure heavy Black Sabbath. Songs like “After All” from Dehumanizer are the blueprint.

Especially enticing are the riffs. Iommi’s riff on “Bible Black” is crushing. “Fear” has some exotic noodling that I found surprising and refreshing. Vinnie’s drums are all cannons without the machine guns, which I do miss. I also wish Geezer’s bass was more slinky and audible, but combined with Iommi’s guitar it just creates this sheer wall of metal. All this is held together by Dio’s still-strong, unique, wonderful voice. Tonally, it is deeper than it was back on Dehumanizer, over 15 years previous.  He was 66 years old when this was recorded.

Walmart version

Walmart version

The Devil You Know is not an instant pleasure. Hooks are scarce, as the album bludgeons you with sound. However, the familiarity that these four musicans create with their combined sounds are the hook. One of the most missed sounds in metal was that of Black Sabbath. When Ozzy came back to Sabbath in ’97, new music was scarce (only two new songs on Reunion, although a third never-released new song called “Scary Dreams” was absolutely mindblowing). I am glad that Dio-era Sabbath was capped off with one hell (pun intended) of an album. This album stands up to the glory days without copying it, and that is a hard thing to do.

Itunes bonus tracks exist for the OCD collector: You can find unique live versions of both “I” and “Neon Knights” on their version of The Devil You Know. If you’re not a hardcore collector, then you can stick to the double live album Live From Radio City Music Hall. If you are a Sabbath completist, then be aware the two live bonus tracks are not from that album, but are unique (and great) live versions unavailable anywhere else.

Rest in peace Ronnie. Sleep well, knowing that you did something rare. You created a cap stone worthy of your body of work.

3.5/5 stars

* The “rough mix” of Forbidden is better.

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Live…Gathered In Their Masses (CD/DVD/Blu-ray box set)

NEW RELEASE

BLACK SABBATH – Live…Gathered In Their Masses (2013 CD/DVD/Blu-ray box set)

Any time a classic rock band releases new music and goes back on tour, there has to be a live album to go with it these days.  Actually, to be more accurate in the current age it’s more likely to be some kind of CD/DVD combo pack.  This deluxe of Live…Gathered In Their Masses contains 1 CD, 1 Blu-ray, and 2 DVDs.

The visual program opens with a collage of pre-gig ritiual.  The band arrive, and get ready in their own dressing rooms, the cameras offering a brief intimate glimpse.  Before too long, the air raid sirens of “War Pigs” brings us to the stage.  The Blu-ray looks absolutely gorgeous.  Every line on every face is visible, every grain on Tony’s Gibson SG, and the stage is gorgeously lit.  It’s a beautiful disc to watch in 1080p.  I couldn’t help myself; I sat there playing air drums, and putting my hands in the air when Ozzy commanded.  It was fun!

Ozzy hops about, but most exciting visually is unofficial member Tommy Clufetos.  I wonder if it’s intentional, but he definitely resembles a young Bill Ward circa 1976 (as long as he keeps his shirt on).  And Tony?  He smiles, a lot.  You would too if you’ve been through what he has I imagine!  Ozzy’s already dumped a bucket of water over his head before they get to the second song, a sludgy “Into the Void”.  I think the temptation is often to play this song a little faster live, but this version is very much in pace with the deliberately slow original.

My cell phone ring tone these days is that riff from “Loner”, one of the best songs from 13.  Unfortunately, the fact that this is a new song means Ozzy’s rivited to one place on stage, concentrating on the words, glancing at the floor.  Even so, Ozzy remains a mesmerizing presence.  Another bucket of water, and Ozzy’s the cheeleading frontman again.  The bonus interview on the disc, by the way, reveals why Ozzy really douses himself in water!  (You probably don’t want to know.)  “Snowblind” then erupts, Ozzy hitting the high notes with cracking but real voice!  (That’s the part that counts.)  Tony’s extended guitar solo is a stunner in itself.

The rain and tolling bells of “Black Sabbath” sound great on blu-ray, though I was hoping to hear more stuff going on behind me in the 5.1 mix.  “Black Sabbath” is the standard workout, no surprises here.  Likewise, “N.I.B.” is very much the traditional Sabbath version, even down to each note of Tony’s solo.  Ozzy somehow manages to still be menacing behind the mic.  “Methademic” is one of the new songs again, but oddly it’s a only bonus track on the deluxe versions of 13.  This is a song that resembles Dio-era Sabbath and would have sounded at home on Dehumanizer or The Devil You Know.  With Ozzy behind the mic, it’s still classic Sabbath.  I think it’s a great number, only weakened live by Ozzy struggling through the wordy lyrics.

Oz doesn’t seem to have trouble with the old favourite “Fairies Wear Boots”.  His wail of “Allllllright now!” looms, and out comes the water again!  “Symptom Of the Universe” then stomps on the stage.  This is the song that Clufetos can really sink his chops in.  He’s obviously not Bill Ward, but I like his interpretation of Bill’s parts.  They’re as close to the mark as any other Sabbath drummer’s parts, if not more.  Tommy gets an extended drum solo too, during “Symptom”, not bad for an unofficial member!  Mrs. LeBrain called the solo “Sweet!”

GATHERED IN THEIR MASSES_0004A drum solo naturally suits “Iron Man” to segue into.  “Iron Man” is wooden, Clufetos unable to cop Bill Ward’s loose feel.  It’s still “Iron Man”, a song Black Sabbath have probably played live at every show since ’72, but it’s not definitive.  Only when the song gets up to speed does it become the beast it should be.  Another new song, the deliberately vintage sounding “End of the Beginning” takes over, but it’s not the song I would have chosen to play at this point of the set.  Not only is it too similar to “Black Sabbath” but it slows the set down too much so close to the end.  It does pick up, but I feel it would have worked better closer to the start of the show.

Ozzy then teases out that they will only play one more song, unless the crowd goes “extra crazy”.  This “final” song is the storming “Children of the Grave.”  The audience bounces like a wave in sync with the classic tune, led by an energized Ozzy.  I detected some clever editing here to make it appear that Ozzy is jumping around more than he actually is, but that’s video.  One pretty thing about this song is the appearance of Tony’s old cream Gibson SG, paint cracked and chipping.  Blu-ray allows you to see every scratch in the paint.

The crowd goes “extra crazy” and then Ozzy says they’ll play one more song.  It’s “God Is Dead?”, the excellent first single from 13.  Clufetos nails the stuttering drum roll, but Ozzy’s back to reading lyrics off the floor, which is distracting.  But does anyone actually believe it is the last song; that they won’t play “Paranoid”?  Of course they play it, and the riff from “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” too.  It’s the quintessential closer, ending the concert as a party, not a session of pure doom!  Clufetos and Ozzy are quite animated on “Paranoid”, and of course Ozzy reminds the crowd that they are “number one”!  I just wish Tommy would pull up his pants.  Fuck, I wish I could fit into that size!

The DVD and Blu-ray versions contain three bonus tracks.  “Under the Sun” is a nice one to pull out of the hat.  Ozzy handles the difficult vocals without issue.  How does he do it?  You can hear his voice cracking from time to time; it sounds live.  “Dirty Women” is a personal favourite of mine.  This is an interesting version.  It’s the one that Spotify have as their own exclusive bonus track to 13.  I already had an audio copy of this bonus track, but Blu-ray is cool, too.  It’s a damn great rendition of a lost classic from Technical Ecstasy.  “Electric Funeral” is the big surprise, a song I don’t think I’ve ever heard played live.  Ozzy really struggles with the words on “Electric Funeral” but it’s a treat.

Elsewhere on the disc, there are more bonus features.  I have to say the Blu-ray menu is an annoying, repeating tolling bell.  Leaving the menu running unattended for more than 60 seconds is an excersize in testing your patience.  In the bonus features, the Sabbath interview is typically low key.  You know what to expect:  a difficult to understand Ozzy, and a soft spoken Tony, with occasional comments from Geezer.  There’s not too much here in the way of revelations.  Vegetable juice and food have replaced vodka and a line before the show, although Geezer still drinks wine.  How scandalous!  I don’t know who the interviewer is, but he’s very good at getting the band involved and in good humour.

Lastly there’s a feature called “Show Day”.  This is a behind the scenes look at the goings-on in the 24 hours before the show in Melbourne.  I love it!

Ozzy:  “You know what I was looking at, the old re-runs of the Twilight Zone.”

Geezer:  “You told me that about 40 times.”

Ozzy:  “Sorry.  Trying to make conversation.”

Tony:  (Laughs.)

Even Joe Perry and Steven Tyler show up backstage.  I enjoy watching Joe and Tony chatting…what a meeting of guitar greats in one room.

The packaging for this box set is loaded with goodies.  I always enjoy some complimentary guitar picks.  There’s one here from Tony, and one from Geezer.  There’s also a replica concert ticket, setlist, and a small poster.  Nothing to get too excited about, but when you buy an expensive box set it’s nice to get these added touches as a bonus.  There’s also two DVDs included with the same content as Blu-ray.  That’s extraneous to me, I may never play them, so they’re sealed.  I don’t have a problem with that, but I do wish they didn’t edit the CD version of the concert down to fit on one CD.  I’m pleased that the CD version contains all the new songs, but for the price of this set relative to the cheap cost of a CD, I don’t know why they couldn’t just make it a 2 CD set.  That part is disappointing.  When I buy a deluxe edition, I want the whole thing on CD.

That niggle aside, Black Sabbath Live…Gathered In Their Masses is worth:

4.5/5 stars

Blu-ray REVIEW: Classic Albums – Black Sabbath – Paranoid

More BLACK SABBATH at mikeladano.com:

SABBATH DELUXE EDITIONS:  Black Sabbath Paranoid Master of Reality Heaven and Hell Mob Rules Born Again Seventh Star The Eternal Idol Dehumanizer

Other SABBATH reviews:  13 (new album) Headless Cross Forbidden Bootleg CD: Forbidden Rough Mix  Concert review: Forbidden tour July 22 1995 Kitchener Ontario HEAVEN & HELL: Neon Nights: 30 Years of Heaven & Hell – Live in Europe  BILL WARD: Ward One: Along The Way BILL WARD: “Straws” / “The Dark Half Hour” singles

CLASSIC PARANOID_0001CLASSIC ALBUMS:  Paranoid – BLACK SABBATH (2010 Eagle Vision Blu-ray)

Those familiar with Black Sabbath know that Tony and Geezer don’t necessarily make the best interviewees. Their answers are often monotone, bland, and only vaguely remembered. Maybe somebody gave them some coffee before this video.  Geezer in particular seems more animated, but they both appear actually alive! Bill Ward is Bill Ward, of course.  Ozzy can barely get his voice above a croaking whisper. None of that matters though, because this Blu-ray disc is not about the present, it’s about the distant past, 40+ years distant in fact: the landmark metal album of metal albums, Paranoid.

Everybody reading this knows Paranoid from front to back (I hope so, anyway) and has probably bought it more than once. If you don’t know Paranoid, get the album!  Go!  Listen to it, come back, and finish reading this review later.

Like all Classic Albums discs, this deconstructs classic tunes to the individual layers.  You are invited to hear the basic tracks for songs such as “Iron Man”, “Fairies Wear Boots”, “Planet Caravan”, “Black Sabbath”, and more. Engineer Tom Allom (perhaps best known for his production work with Judas Priest) is your tour guide. Stripped of vocals and guitar, you can hear the rhythm section clearly.  Hearing Bill and Geezer playing together without adornment is a revelation. If anyone comes out looking very underrated in the Sabbath saga, it is Bill Ward and Geezer Butler, who are psychically locked-in and loose.

Meanwhile, in new footage from the here and now, Iommi demonstrates some of the most famous riffs and solos in Sabbath history.  Meanwhile Ozzy explains how he wrote melodies. This story is unfolded within the context of the late 60’s and early 70’s, and what Sabbath stood for in those tumultuous times.

Bonus features are generous, like all Classic Albums discs. About 45 minutes of additional footage is available, discussing songs and topics that didn’t make the cut of the main Blu-ray feature itself. None of it is filler, all of it is worth watching and probably would have made a completely un-boring extended feature anyway, had it been left in.

My only complaint is the resolution of this disc is only 1080i. Minor complaint at that.

As a companion piece, I highly recommend getting Paranoid in its 3 disc expanded edition. The reason being is, on this Blu-ray you will hear demo versions of songs with alternate lyrics. If you want all of these demos complete and uncut, you have to get the 3 disc version of Paranoid which includes them all (as well as the album’s original Quad mix).

Oh, and one last thing:  Henry Rollins.

4/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Black Sabbath – 13 (by Uncle Meat)

Uncle Meat is back to tell us about the new Sabbath — the standard 8 track retail version.  When I get the deluxe and Best Buy editions, I’ll do my own.  Until then, please welcome Uncle Meat for his insightful take on one of the most anticipated albums of the last 33 years.

BLACK SABBATH – 13 (2013 Universal)

What is your favorite Black Sabbath album?  How many times do you think that question has been asked over the last 30 years or so?  Before today, I would have said my personal favorite would be a tie between Volume 4 and Heaven and Hell (cop-out answer I know).   Expectedly, that has not changed after listening to the long-anticipated “reunion” album simply titled 13.  There is a case to be made that this is one of the most anticipated albums of all time.  So does this album live up to that hype?

Sabbath LogoThe true answer to that question lies within you as the listener of course.  Personally, I always find that something truly great will build momentum with every listen.   With that in mind, my first listen to 13 was one of pleasant surprise.  It has been a long time since Black Sabbath (or Heaven & Hell for that matter) has released something that I have connected with.   Even Dehumanizer, which I believe to be the last relevant Sabbath album, went in a direction that was not really what I wanted to hear from Black Sabbath.   My theory is that with Dehumanizer, they were trying to “reclaim the throne” so to speak.  Being overly heavy just for the sake of being heavy, and losing the diversity and groove that made them true rock royalty.  It appears Rick Rubin has brought back at least some of that old Black Sabbath magic.

Rick Rubin’s legacy is almost as iconic as Black Sabbath themselves.  He has been responsible for the re-birth of several artists such as Slayer, Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash et al.  The first thing that struck me about 13 was the bass sound.  Geezer has never sounded better and is hot in the mix, complimenting and adding to every track.  I also really like Tony Iommi’s guitar sound on this album.  More than a few times I found myself reminded of that classic Iommi riff sound.  Brad Wilk’s drums are great, and this could be nit-picking, but there is no doubt that Ward’s drum style is missed here on a few tracks.  Even Ozzy gets a passing grade here but I suspect that has a lot more to do with Rubin rather than a resurgence of Ozzy’s voice.  I was pleasantly surprised as well by the vocal melody lines on the album as a whole.

SABBATH CALM

TRACK 1 – “END OF THE BEGINNING”

The guitar parts in the verses paint an almost too-reminiscent picture of Black Sabbath‘s “Black Sabbath”.  But overall this track is strong throughout its 8:07 running time.  Definitely a great start to the album. Ozzy hits some notes at the end of this song that I find hard to believe even came out of the man. Steroids?

TRACK 2 – “GOD IS DEAD?”

I was not thrilled about this song when it was released prior.  Not that I dislike this song, just nothing special here to me. Next.

TRACK 3 – “LONER”

Good track.  They are somewhat ripping themselves off here to be honest, and that’s OK ’cause every band with longevity does it to an extent.  Main riff is VERY reminiscent of “N.I.B.”, and also Ozzy’s  “Alright now” and “Come on, Yeah!” made me genuinely smile.   Anyone remember Barry Horowitz?  Patting himself on the back?

BARRY PAT BACK

TRACK 4 – “ZEITGEIST”

More self-pilfering, this is the the “Planet Caravan” of the album.  Don’t particularly like that song to begin with. There are more strong vocals from The Madman here though.  But, still glad it’s the shortest song on the album (4:37).

TRACK 5 –”AGE OF REASON”

This track is in a tie right now with upcoming Track 7 (oh the drama!) as my favorite tune on the album.  Not only are the best riffs of the album on this song, I found myself loving the progressions here.  They remind me of the diverse song-writing on Sabotage, for example.  “Age of Reason” also contains a CLASSIC Tony Iommi solo.  This cannot be under-stated.  One kick-ass monster Tony Iommi solo!

TRACK 6 – “LIVE FOREVER”

The second shortest track on the album at 4:49, this is a good little song; and a great main riff on this track.  Very reminiscent of one of my favorite Sabbath songs, “Cornucopia” and even Brad Wilk seems to channel some Bill Ward in the open crash cymbal playing on this song.

TRACK 7 – “DAMAGED SOUL”

This is what we have been waiting for.  This is Sabbath being Sabbath better than all the bands that try, intentionally or un-intentionally, to be Sabbath.  [Wait until you see tomorrow’s story — LeBrain]  This is what I want from my Black Sabbath.  Doom meets gloom meets the blues.  There is something wonderfully sloppy about the guitar on this song.  Like a cross between Iommi and Keith Richards.  We even get some Ozzy harmonica in there.  Love the bridge in this song and the harmony vocals that come with it. The last third of this song is just lovely.  Yes… I said lovely. Check it out.  I must take back a proclamation made earlier in this review.  This is my favorite track on the album.  It’s that simple.

TRACK 8 – “DEAR FATHER”

The last track on the album is solid.  Once again there are some great drums on this song.  It builds momentum as well, getting more majestic as it goes along.  The last track on the album has a very fitting ending.  The track ends with the thunder, rain and tolling of the bell that started off their very first album 43 years ago.

The bottom line is this:  Black Sabbath have released a very relevant album in 2013.  I had my doubts if that was possible, and I am sure the presence of Rick Rubin was a big part of this being a very good if not great album.  Even without Bill Ward, there is life and inspiration within 13.  I find the ending of this album (hopefully) very fitting.  They have made an album which will be rightly recognized as something special, and this should be the end for Black Sabbath.  A glorious end indeed.

A solid 3 ¼ / 5 stars

Look for Mike Ladano’s upcoming review of the super duper extra-special royale deluxe version … containing several more tracks … coming soon.

Uncle Meat

BLACK SABBATH-13 SUPER DELUXE BOX